Almost thirty years ago, in a desperate, half-hearted attempt to change my life, I applied to a college I imagined would take me. Why would it admit me, the failed junior college drop out? Well, perhaps because it was in Turlock, a town I'd never heard of, despite the fact that I'd lived in California my entire life. Back in the days before Google, we had to look at maps, and my then boyfriend John and I stared at the California map, wondering how long it would take to get to Turlock.
"Three hours," John declared, and I believed him because I'd never driven very far by myself. Maybe to Stinson Beach, once, the way home only.
So when the college asked me to come in for an interview, I accepted, and left 3 hours before the appointment, clutching the map and John's written-out directions: 680, 580, 205, 120, 99, Monte vista Avenue, Bingo.
It seemed like Nevada, the middle of California, everything in the summer half dead except for sudden and suddenly ubiquitous flurries of yellow butterflies, dozens of them splatting on my windshield. The world was a desert, and it was industrial, the Holly Sugar plant the beacon for Tracy--Ripon, Salida, Ceres, Atwater all marked with silos. Train tracks ran parallel to the freeways. I could have been in another state. I could have been 3 hours from home. Instead, I was only an hour and a half away, and in the time before my interview, I walked the campus (done in 20 minutes) and then sat in the shade of very large trees, reading a book.
To my surprise, I was admitted, and I made that drive hundreds of times over the next four years, going back a few times in the years since, but not for a long while. Until today as I traveled to a speaking engagement.
California is beautiful and dry, hot and brown, the hills like dinosaur bones. California is also turning into a deserted strip mall. Some of the old signs remain to decorate 99 (Steve's Truck Spot), but there are a couple of Lowe's, a dozen Applebee's, a few Targets. I couldn't find all the old places I used to use to urge myself forward. Where was the little tiny trailer? The last one at the trailer dealership in Ripon? I'd loved that tiny trailer and the funky dealership, but it seemed to have been plowed over. Even the road was different, very few spots of freeway turning to highway, those four way stops all gone, a straight shot from Manteca to Fresno.
My girlhood to young womanhood was on those miles, though, the college freshman who drove home of weekends to visit the boyfriend who was cheating on her--the girl who cheated right back. The now pregnant woman driving home to the hospital in Walnut Creek. The back and forth, the back and forth, college, home, college home. As I drove by Turlock today, I saw my old exit, the one that allowed me to breathe. Here. Here you are.
On the way home, I saw the old entrance, the one that said, "You get to go back to the Bay Area now."
And past Turlock, past Merced, was the way to Los Angeles and my new boyfriend and now husband's home. Fresno, Bakersfield, the grapevine, the wide mouth of Los Angeles.
I couldn't help but feel sentimental, to live in the past a bit, images whooshing past me as fast as the miles. I let myself dip in, sink softly into the memories, but then I stopped myself before I imagined the past to be better than it was. But it was. This was part of my past, this old, long, crowded road, this way home. This way back, this way to the ends of the state.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org